Colin Amato's Posts (5)

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The Great Journey

“The greatest of emotions is fear, and the greatest fear is fear of the unknown,”(Lovecraft, 2003). So said the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft who knew quite a lot about what frightens mankind. Indeed the fear of the unknown is inflated onto the fear of death,(Nichols,1980). What happens after death is something that is utterly unknown to the psyche of man,(Jung,1958). Metaphysics is something that we all ponder, in particular the topics of the afterlife. On a subjective level, we all have notions of death and what it means for us. Not only is death something that we think about and consider, but symbols around the world represent death and the afterlife,(Nichols,1980). Psychologically, death can be understood in three ways. The first being the natural/physiological context of every day death and dying; also it can be understood by the symbolism created by the psyche as well as those motifs seen in scripture/folklore.

The natural cognitive and social understanding of death and dying was something that was best researched by the psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Her research indicated that there are stages that a person goes through when faced with the idea that they will die. Denial/Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance are the names of the stages she gave to those who are dealing with the experience of dying,(Kubler-Ross, 1969). She also documented society’s fear of death but also the hope one gains from going through the process of dying,(Kubler-Ross,1969). Kubler-Ross dealt with death and dying in terms of helping patients go through the cognitive-behavioral process of acceptance and even taught society at large on how to view the subject with less fear and misunderstanding. However her approach via consciousness is not the only way we can understand death and dying.

Carl Jung was of the opinion that death and the idea that there is something beyond life is a psychological fact. He was not sure how life might go on, but by observing patients in old age, death was simply the next stage in the journey of psychological existence (Jung,1977). Jung also observed that his patients, through series of dreams, could indicate approaching death,(Jung,1960). The unconscious appears to care more about, how one would die, as opposed to death itself (Jung, 1960). “Dying, therefore, has its onset long before actual death. Moreover, this often shows itself in peculiar changes of personality which may precede death by quite a long time,”(Jung, 1960). It would seem that on a personal subjective level death is something that the psyche takes very seriously and it is indeed very real. However we know that death is not only a physiological objective fact, but it is represented by collective symbolism.

Death is something that has been discussed and symbolized in every culture around the world. Every religion, scripture and mythological canon deals with the journey of death, that is depicted in the underworld motifs of the Greeks with the ferryman Charon across the river Styks(Nichols, 1980). This motif is repeated in the myth of the Egyptians, with the sun god rising from the darkness, sailing across the sky, and then sinking back into the abyss to fight the demon snake Apep(Jung, 1958). The Book of the Dead, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and the Quran all depict death as a journey.

This journey is one that is experienced by everyone on a psychological level,(Nichols,1980). The motifs of Jesus Christ, Odin and Horus’ death and resurrection are symbols of the process of change within the individual psyche,(Frazer,1996). The symbol can be understood, “psychologically as a transformative process which divides up an original unconscious content for purposes of conscious assimilation,”(Nichols, 1980). These motifs and psychic content, I would argue, are the reason for the symbols associated with the scriptures that depict the afterlife. If, as Jung argues, the psyche gives individuals a sense that life goes on past physical death, then these symbols are directly linked.

Death is something that has held our species in a state of awe, fear and wonder. Kubler-Ross understood death as something that patients and their loved ones can come to accept and understand through a series of steps and process’,(Kubler-Ross,1969). Carl Jung felt that the unconscious played a vital role in expressing the psyche’s understanding of death for the individual as well as the symbols of natural transformation,(Jung,1958). Finally, even beyond psychological theorizing and understanding, cultures around the world have expressed the mystery of death in art, literature, folklore, mythology and religious scripture,(Nichols,1980). It would seem that death is a journey that is both personal and collective. As Peter Pan remarked to Captain Hook: “To die must be an awfully big adventure,”(Nichols, 1980).


1. Lovecraft, H.P.(2003). Waking up screaming. Random House Inc. New York. 2. Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth.(1969). On death and dying. Macmillian Publishing, New York, NY. 3. Frazer, James. (1996). The Golden Bough. Penguin Books, London England. 4. Nichols, Sallie. (1980). Jung and Tarot-An Archetypal Journey. Red Wheel, Boston MA. 5. Jung, Carl. (1960). The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. Bolligen Foundation, New York, N.Y. 6. McGuire and Hull. (1977). C.G.Jung Speaking-Interviews and Encounters. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

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The End?

Every major stage in our life’s journey can lead us to not only have feelings of wonder and joy, but can also lead to feelings of despair and confusion. We must make decisions that could affect our wellbeing and our mental health. One major change for seniors is the idea of living in a retirement community or living at home. We cliché have this image of elderly people getting shipped away to nursing homes and yet this is not the case. “Approximately 70 percent of the elderly live in a family setting…20 percent live alone…the remaining number live in institutions such as nursing homes.”(Cox pg.119). Thus we must ask what makes seniors decide to stay at home as they age or enter into a nursing home? What conscious and unconscious factors play a role in the living arraignments of seniors in our community?

Independence is something we value very highly on a personal level. Psychologically speaking we are always moving towards a place of individualism within a collective social environment. This being the case, the elderly are faced with a tough decision regarding their choice of living. Do they stay at home or do they move into a nursing home? “Because most older Americans would prefer to live independently in their own homes for as long as possible, their relocation…is often accompanied by a considerable amount of trauma and unrest.”(Cox, pg.119). As a result, many elderly people or the baby boomer generation are developing “’a naturally occurring retirement community,’ or NORC.”(Buntin, pg. 124). These communities are made up of seniors who, due to spouses dying or children have left,  have come together and formed close nit almost dorm like apartment complexes. “Demographics estimate that 90 percent of baby boomers will age in place.”(Buntin, pg. 124). This recognition that so many seniors wish to stay at home, and age in place, is being supported by many state wide organizations who wish to aid the elderly in the process of not having to live in nursing homes. Why is the idea of living in one’s own home so important, beyond the conscious idea of wanting to age in place? Carl Jung held that the house is symbol of the totality of the psyche. He personally had two experiences that reflected this notion.  In a dream before his break with Freud he saw himself in a house with many levels. Each level as he went down became older and more ancient until the sublevel below the basement was prehistoric. This lead Jung to understand the concept of the Collective Unconscious and the symbol of the psyche reflected in a house. (Jung, pg.). After his break with Freud, Jung had another image of house.  He saw a large castle-like structure being built and he instantly recognized that this was a symbol of his entire psyche. In his conscious life he actually built the house he saw in his dream, and explained that all of the elements inside and out represented him.(Jung, pg.) If this symbol of the house having a total connection to the individual psyche can be applied in a collective level, then this would help us understand why seniors, and people in general, feel the strong urge to stay at their home throughout their lives.

Moving into a nursing home can be incredibly hard for many who have spent the majority of their lives in the same place. Memories that cannot be replaced and a distinct familiarity is something that many seniors do not wish to give up by moving. However, can locations be found that can attempt to replicate the feeling of a safe and homely environment? This is being attempted by Dr. Bill Thomas and his Green House project.(Fine pg. 122). In these Green Houses senior are treated with respect and dignity and not like prisoners as one fine in many mainstream nursing homes. “Residents are called “elders” not “patients”. Unlike in most nursing homes, residents can have pets, and instead of mandated mealtimes, they can choose when to eat…it is quieter…the elders are less agitated.”(Fine pg. 122). With the success of incorporating a loving and supportive living environment, The Green House Project is allowing seniors to move into communal living without compromising their physical and mental wellbeing.
When seniors are faced with the fear of having to move out of their home and into a nursing home, we find that it is for good reason. The place that represents their entire stability in life is being threatened. Therefore, if the federal and state governments can support elders living at home, or implement such styles of nursing homes as the Green House Project, then this fear can be abided and not materialize for the elderly in our communities. The home is a valuable projection of a symbol from the unconscious. It is important on a personal and collective level. We cannot force seniors to make decisions that will prove to be detrimental to their wellbeing. Through support and care can we aid them in the last stage of their lives.

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Projecting onto the elderly

“Thirty-seven years ago, Congress passed the Age Discrimination crimination in Employment Act(ADEA) which makes it illegal for an employer or union to discharge, refuse to hire, or otherwise discriminate on the basis of age.”(Cox, 2011). It is obvious from the passing of this bill that the elderly in the american workforce have faced discrimination and hardships at the hands of their younger counterparts. Why do younger person’s discriminate against the elderly in the workplace and in society at large? This answer can be attempted by viewing this  as a psychological projection either consciously or unconsciously from the young onto the old. This projection is rooted in cultural understandings and fears about the elderly and the unconscious projection of archetypes from the collective unconscious. We will examine both the  personal and collective projections onto the elderly are why this leads to social discrimination.
Projections can be from a negative and a positive place in the human psyche. However the issue of discrimination against the elderly is from an obvious negative projection. What would the young have to project onto the old that is so negative? One aspect is the mystery of death and aging, which many younger people associate with fear and not wanting to acknowledge mortality. This can be understood by specific archetypes that represent the Father and Mother in the collective unconscious. Carl Jung, like Sigmund Freud, understood that the family dynamic was very important to a child’s psyche. The two heads of the family, Father and Mother, are both represented in the unconscious of the psyche. How our relationships are with our actual parents and the psychological feelings and experiences we gain from them are all derived from existing archetypes. The negative projections of these archetypes onto elderly people, manifest themselves from a unconscious fear of death.
The fear of the unknown, which is directly linked with death, is one of the reasons for a negative projection onto the elderly. Jungian analysts have discovered an interesting expression of both the Father and Mother archetypes which are directly linked to death. The Father archetype is connected with death in the context of the Wise Old Man. “Eventually, however, the old man dies(usually by jumping into an abyss, ocean or other symbol of the feminine), returns to the uroborus, and the cycle of the masculine begins again.” (Samuels, 1985) Once the Wise Old Man, the guiding principle of the Father archetype, loses its usage for the individual psyche, it “dies” usually linked to the feminine in the unconscious.
The feminine aspect of the psyche is represented to a certain extent by the Mother archetype. Like, the Father, this archetype can be represented in the context of death and hence can bring fear to a person’s psyche. Symbolic representations of the “negative” Mother can be seen in many myths and stories. Kali, goddess of death in Hindu theology, is depicted with severed heads, standing on a dead corpse, blood dripping from her tongue. “The figure of the Terrible Mother dominates the pre-Hellenic as well as the early Greek worlds with the same archetypal symbolism.”(Neumann, 1963). The Gorgon Medusa with her gaze of death, as well as Scylla the monster from Homer’s Odyssey which lead sailors to their watery deaths against the rocks, are all representatives of this “negative feminine” greek symbolism. Ilamatecuhtli, the Aztec goddess of death is depicted as overseeing the afterlife which is very much like the Christian views of Hell. Pain and agony are associated with the afterlife for many, until the rebirth takes place.(Neumann, 1963).
These mysteries of death associated with rebirth is a motif that is depicted in mythology and theology. It is no strange thing that psychologically both the Father and Mother archetypes deal with death in a specific aspect of their existence in the collective psyche of man. Until these mysteries can be understood by the Ego(consciousness) of individuals, then a negative, fearful projection shall be placed onto the elderly, and discrimination will continue in our society.

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Individuation and Aging

“Generally people who are active in a religious faith tend to get through difficult times better,” says Al Siebert, Ph.D., author of The Resiliency Advantage. (Cox 2011) Many psychologists have reached the conclusion that people with high religious convictions and who participated in religious rituals/activities could overcome depression faster than their non-religious counterparts. In Jungian Analytical Psychology, dealing with the divine mystery of religion, is really to deal with the mystery of the unconscious. One might ask, what religion is best to aid a individual to top resilience and an meaning of life. This can be difficult to answer from an theological point of view, however Analytical psychology answers this from an neutral stand point that all religions lead one through the journey of life.  All forms of scripture, rituals and tales are all expressions of the collective and personal unconscious in each individual. Jung theorized that one could engage with the unconscious through dreams ,active imagination, and so doing could gain resilience that stays with us throughout our entire lives.

“Active Imagination is a therapeutic technique which allows unconscious contents to be exposed in a waking state…The images…may be elaborated through artistic and self-expressive mediums such as painting.”(Hyde&McGuinness 1992). This allows the unconscious contents that are built up just below the surface to erupt upon the Ego and be interpreted and dealt with in a conscious context. We can apply this experience that active imagination gives to a person’s psyche when they are connecting with the archetypes on a conscious level, when they are being creative, playing with others, and learning new things, regardless of the age they currently are.
Every time a person interacts with their psyche, either through active imagination, or dreams, they are interacting with the contents of their personal unconscious and the archetypes of the collective unconscious. This gives people that sense of continuous wonder, which directly contradicts the feeling of dullness and meaningless. This allows aging individuals the feeling that their life still has meaning, for life is not over when one reaches old age. According to Jung, it is the later part of life and the psyche is still very active and is still growing and changing on the path of individuation.(Jung 1960)

Individuation is the process by which a person has a total understanding of the totality of their psyche. Unconscious contents, both personal and collective are brought forth and dealt with by the Ego. This is a process of understanding the Self, the archetype of the entire psyche/Soul/The Divine Self Within. This understanding of the Self gives people a sense of wholeness and connection with everyone around them on a universal level. This is the driving force behind why people, as they become elderly, have a healthy and motivated life. They are experiencing new things and obtaining new knowledge because their inner life is being successfully balanced. When one has  understanding of their own psyche they have no problem following their bliss and going through life as happy, resilient persons.

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Archetypes of Aging

Hey everyone I wanted to share some of my blog posts from another blog I had to set up while taking a Psychology of Aging course where I attend school. The professor wanted us to post our papers as blog posts so we could have experience blogging and also making it academic in nature. I was the only student in class that had any serious interest in Depth Psychology and Jung in particular, so my professor allowed me to write on the topic of aging from a "Jungian" point of view. I began to doubt if anyone would actually stumble across my blog that I made for the class, and felt that perhaps members of this community would get a kick out of reading some of my thoughts. So the next couple posts will be reposts from my other blog. Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think. I want to be clear that my knowledge of depth psychology is only that of a undergraduate majoring in psychology who reads Jung outside of class a lot, so please feel free to let me know what you think of my application of Jung's theories with regards to aging and the elderly. Thank you! 

Becoming Like Children
In the documentary “Aging in America: the years ahead” one member of an RV group at the age of 70 articulated that she felt as if she was “becoming a child again.” This was in response to her being asked what it was like for her to have reached such an age and still be active. This idea of elderly people regressing to childlike behavior, both physically and mentally, is something that was depicted in the film in the RV group and in the Alabaman prison system. The former appeared to be healthy, their regression adding an extra spark to their lives. The latter was seen as miserable, the elderly inmates becoming nothing more than shells of their former selves, totally regressed to infancy.
Jungian Analytical psychology might be able to shed light on the subject of the inner child, psychologically speaking, and the concept of mental regression. One of the archetypes in the psyche is the Child. This archetype is the reasons for childhood recollections and emotions that stay with us as we mature. Embracing this archetype or completely ignoring it is one of the many experiences of the psyche.(Jung pg. 167)
Embracing the child archetype in an healthy context, as one can see int he RV members in the film, can be observed in two places. First, in the gospel of Matthew Jesus Christ states: “I tell you the truth, you must be as children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Another place is Wendy, one of the main characters in the novel “Peter Pan.” The psychological value of these two examples, is that even though one knows we are growing old, we must never forget the inner child within us, the source of bliss of wonder. Wendy knows that she cannot remain in Neverland with Peter, she recognizes that she must return home and grow old, even though she never forgets her childhood experiences. The healthy individual thus matures, but does not repress the child archetype.(Jung, Barrie)
The elderly prison inmates in Alabama, as depicted in the film, are dealing with an unhealthy embrace with childlike regression.  Carl Jung described the natural “womb-like” mental experience that occurs when one is going through a mental transformation. It is almost regressive in nature, but the outcome is healthy and progressive. This is not the case with the inmates, who are being cut off from their inner child and stripped of individuality. This is an abnormal experience of the “Jonah in the whale-complex”. They are being submerged in the regression, not being allowed to progress. They become elderly infants, not even being able to care for themselves. The symbol of Captain Hook, attempting to kill Peter Pan (the child) who finally is eaten by the Crocodile, represents this mental regressive state.(Jung pg. 419)
What the film and the symbols make clear to us, is the idea that if we keep embracing our inner child, allowing wonder and joy to enhance our lives, we need not become empty shells. However when we ourselves, very much like Mr. Darling, Wendy’s father, believes we just need “to grow up and stop playing” we lose a huge part of our psyche. Individuals maintain an healthy connections with themselves, all the way to death. Being cut off from the child archetype can be have negative affects upon the psyche and result in being captured in the belly of the beast. Embracing the child, can lead us to the kingdom, the place of continual mental bliss.

Work Cited
Barrie, Sir James M. (1987). Peter Pan. New York: Random House
Jung, C.G. (1956). Symbols of Transformation. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C.G. (1959). The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

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